April 21, 2013
BSA Proposes "It Gets Worse" Policy
The Boy Scouts of America have a resolution on membership policy that will be voted on in May. This opens Scouting to gay youth, but leaves the adult rules unchanged. The adult rules do not allow "individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA." In other words, stay in the closet if you want to be a Scout leader.
So what happens when a gay Scout turns 18? Before then, they were moral enough to be a Scout, but now, an instant later, they are not. Before, they were accepted, but now, they are out. Bizarrely, they can be in and out at the same time, because they can be a youth Venturer until age 21 while forbidden to be an over-18 adult leader in Cub or Boy Scouts.
Bullying and suicide are a critical problem for our LGBT youth. The "It gets better" campaign has been a rallying point for encouraging youth to believe that there will be more acceptance as they grow up. You will be more accepted--it gets better. But this BSA proposal comes down solidly on the other side. It is OK to be gay as long as you are young, but once you turn 18, you might as well sell that uniform on eBay. We don't want you. Though if you can squeeze back into that closet, we'll take you.
Instead of "it gets better", the BSA would say "it gets worse". Gay youth are OK, but adults are out.
This cannot be justified on youth protection grounds. The BSA's YP advisory committee is quoted in the executive summary saying, “The nearly universal opinion among sexual abuse authorities is that same-sex sexual interest or same-sex sexual experience, either in adults or youth, is NOT a risk factor for sexually abusing children.” The all-caps "NOT" is in the original.
One thing is very clear, the BSA is not bowing to donors. With this proposal, the BSA continues to exclude gays and continues to be unacceptable to most large donors.
Outside of the moral issues, this policy could be a disaster for our council. The continuing discrimination against gay adults offends nearly all parents in our area and is unacceptable to sponsoring organizations.
I know of one Palo Alto troop that is on the verge of losing their charter organization because of the current policy. That decision is on hold waiting for a change in BSA policy. Our district office is in space leased from the city. Will they renew that lease? Tough call for the city, really.
Our local newspaper covered the district fireside chat on membership. Every single person at that meeting was in favor of opening membership to gays. The newspaper tried hard to find someone opposed (they even contacted me), but couldn't. You can read the article "Local Boy Scouts want change in sexual-orientation policy".
In February, a well-respected poll found that 78% of age 18-39 Californians were in favor of gay marriage. Not just gay rights, but gay marriage. These are the people who would be Scout parents, but they won't be, because they won't put their sons in an organization which is solidly in conflict with their family values.
Earlier, there was a leak about a proposed policy that opened membership at the national level, but allowed charter organizations to choose their membership. After some thought, I decided that was a good approach. For a very long time, the BSA has allowed "closed units", which only accept members from the charter organization. This might be a Catholic church, or maybe a home for developmentally-disabled adults registered as youth. Though I disagree with discrimination against gays, that approach would have allowed each organization to follow their own definition of "morally straight" while allowing all Scouts at Philmont or a Jamboree.
This proposal? It is logically inconsistent, solves almost nothing, and adds one more burden to the LGBT youth of our country.
March 23, 2013
A Few Favorite Backcountry Cookbooks
Backcountry cookbooks tend to stick to a single cooking approach, ranging from "just add boiling water" to cooking from scratch. You may need to sample a few cookbooks until you find one that matches your style.
Freezer Bag Cooking by Sarah Kirkconnell is a guide to making your own just-add-water backcountry meals. Most ingredients are available at your supermarket. Compared to pre-packaged freeze-dried meals, these have twice the food and cost half as much. Read carefully, though, some of the recipes serve two people and some serve only one.
NOLS Cookery is the best book for working from bulk food. This is a different style than planning each meal, but effective for larger and more frequent expeditions. NOLS Cookery uses a fixed set of staples with a few extras for a wide variety of meals which are combined, prepped, and cooked on the trail. No at-home prep, just flat-out cooking on the trail. Be prepared to buy a Banks Fry-Bake, NOLS loves that pan. If you know how to use it, it is both a frying pan and a dutch oven.
NOLS Cookery also has great info on building wood fires, planning the right amount of calories for a trip, and bear protocol. Even if you don't cook the NOLS way, you can get some valuable information from this book.
The Back-Country Kitchen by Teresa Marrone mixes supermarket-available and home-dehydrated ingredients for rehydration or minimal cooking on the trail. The recipes vary in complexity from dressing up instant grits with cheese and egg to Cajun Venison Tenderloin. They also range from backpacking to cabin cooking.
The twenty page chapter on dehydrating food at home is all you'll ever need and probably worth the price of the book. Want to know how to dry eggplant or kiwi? It is covered concisely, with equivalents between dehydrated and fresh so you can adapt recipes. With home-dried ingredients, you are ready for these tasty recipes or the simpler ones in Freezer Bag Cooking, your choice.
Of course, the recipes are also worth the price. Look for yummies like planked fish held down with bacon or cabin cooking with a can of cherries to season the venison. I made a the Lentil-Bulgur Chili with fresh ingredients at home and the family declared it a keeper. People love the same recipe in the backcountry with dehydrated veg.
Overall, this is my favorite trail cookbook.
The entrees in Lipsmackin' Backpackin' by Tim and Christine Connors are yet another style, where you combine and cook ingredients at home, then dehydrate the results. I have the book, but I don't think I've ever cooked anything from it.
If you do not want to dehydrate at home, I recommend getting some samplers of dehydrated vegetables from Harmony House. That will get you through most of the trail recipes in Back-Country Kitchen. Most recipes only need a tablespoon or a quarter cup, so a one cup bag will last a while. The sampler makes a nice Christmas present, too.
I have a pretty good collection of camping cookbooks, including those my dad bought in the 60's. You want Bradford Angier's opinion on moose muzzle? I can find it. He says it is even tastier than bear.
I recommend getting a few books and trying a few styles. You'll have to go camping to really try them, but that isn't a problem, right?
March 09, 2013
Need that extra zing for your backpacking meal? Shelf-stable bacon bits! It is a three ounce package, so you'll need to use it fairly quickly after you open it. But that might not be a problem. And it is at Safeway, so you can get it for this weekend. I might do that, since I'm teaching BSA Introduction to Outdoor Leadership Skills this weekend.
See Sarah Kirkconnell's blog for the details.
August 18, 2012
Striking Out On Your Own
Boy Scout leaders always talk about guiding boys to become men, but we don't always get to see it happen. Late this summer, I watched it happen for my son.
Michael has been eager to go out backpacking with his friends and without older folks. He's just turned 18, so I can't quite say "without adults." I was prepared to go over every aspect of the plans with a critical eye, reserving the option to cancel the whole thing.
He started planning the trip with his friends from the cross-country team, including another Eagle Scout. They looked at a bunch of options, but settled on revisiting the area the Venture Patrol hiked in a week-long trek in 2009 with Mike as crew leader. This was a conservative, safety-conscious decision. It is not the most dramatic part of the Sierras, but he's seen almost all the trails before, including the part where we got lost in the beaver marsh on the west bank of the west fork of the Walker River.
They decided on the Hoover Wilderness, which does not require bear canisters—we used bear bags on our previous trip—and he found the two troop bear canisters (with only three phone calls!) and borrowed two more, so they decided on the heavier but safer route for bears. I walked in while he was explaining the "bearmuda triangle" to his mom, keeping the kitchen, food, and tents widely separated.
Mike has Wilderness First Aid training, so he borrowed my crew-sized first aid kit and Sam Splints. They are on their own this time, which is why we have always talked over the important decisions with the Scouts even if the adults are making the safety decisions.
We walked through the weather risks, even though he objected with a frustrated "I have been backpacking before" at one point. The more times we go, the more we respect the risks, I guess.
I took a quick look at their food plans. They looked OK, though I can't really judge how much an active 18 year old eats. I wasn't paying attention when I was that age. They did take a decent amount of food, and if they were a bit short, they'll do better next time. They aren't too far off. I would have made freezer bag meals to save money, but they are going with commercial freeze-dried stuff. I recommended taking some Tony Chachere's cajun seasoning, but I expect he forgot that. He'll remember next time.
They were going to take two water filters, but I found my stock of Aqua Mira for him. He's used that before. They took one water filter, but I'm not sure they get that wet.
Mike checked his packing list with me, then did a pack check on the rest of the crew. With bear canister, food, and more than his share of crew gear, he was at 27 pounds. Water takes that to over 30, but but not too danged bad for a four day trek.